Oregon school shooter committed suicide: Police

Guns for sale at Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon.
Guns for sale at Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon.REUTERS

ROSEBURG, United States (REUTERS) - The gunman who killed his English professor and eight others at an Oregon community college committed suicide after a shootout with police who were on the scene within five minutes and exchanged fire with him almost immediately, the authorities said.

Investigators had previously said the 26-year-old shooter was killed by the officers who raced to the rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, which ranks as the deadliest among dozens of US mass shootings in the past two years.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told a news conference on Saturday (Oct 3) the state medical examiner had determined that the gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, took his own life.

Releasing a timeline of the first hour of the massacre, Mr Hanlin said two Roseburg police officers were on the scene within five minutes, and reported to dispatch that they had engaged the gunman just two minutes later.

Mr Hanlin said they“neutralised” him. “Officers responded immediately... there was an exchange of gunfire, (and) the shooter was neutralised at that point in time,” the sheriff said.

“As far as the very specific information regarding whether it was an officer’s bullet or his own bullet, we aren’t prepared at this time to discuss.”

He said an additional handgun was also recovered from the shooter’s apartment, making a total of 14 weapons seized: eight from his home and six he took to the college.

Harper-Mercer was officially identified on Friday as the assailant whom survivors said stormed into the classroom of his introductory writing class on Thursday and shot the professor at point-blank range, before picking off other victims one at a time as he questioned each about their religion and whether they were Christians.

In a brief statement issued on their behalf by state police on Saturday, the gunman’s family said they were “shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific events,” and said their thoughts and prayers go to the relatives of the dead and injured.

The father of the Oregon college gunman said he “has to have some kind of issue” with his mental health to have killed nine people execution-style and wondered how he amassed such a large cache of weapons. “How on earth could he compile 13 guns?”, Mr Ian Mercer told CNN during a televised interview two days after his son's suicide 

Asked about his son’s mental health in the wake of the shooting, Mr Mercer said: “(He) has to have some kind of issue.”

Late on Friday, it emerged that Harper-Mercer was once turned away from a firearms academy by an instructor who recalled finding him “weird” and “a little bit too anxious” for high-level weapons training.

Harper-Mercer had a month-long stint in the Army in 2008 and a preoccupation with weaponry that dated back at least two years.

He sought to register for training in 2012 or 2013 at Seven 4 Para, a private self-defence and law enforcement training academy in Torrance, California. But Mr Eloy Way, the centre’s president and head instructor, said he sent Harper-Mercer away.

“We wanted him to take a beginner safety course and he was trying to tell me that he already had experience with firearms and I didn’t get a good feeling about him,” Mr Way told Reuters.

“He was just kind of a weird guy and seemed kind of spoiled, immature,” he said.

“He was a little bit too anxious to get high-level training and there was no reason for it.”

The authorities have disclosed little of what they may know about the gunman’s motives.

CNN said, citing unidentified sources, that he left a statement that showed animosity towards blacks. Asked on Saturday if the shooter had handed a “box” or other materials to anyone at the scene, Mr Hanlin said he did not know.

He said investigators have to run down hundreds of leads and have seized evidence from multiple locations, including the weapons and ammunition, documents and digital media.

“We want to ensure we have all the information... of this horrific situation gathered,” he said.

“Primarily, at this point what we really want to do is try to gain an understanding so that we can work together with law enforcement agencies all across the country in an attempt to try to prevent future types of situations.”

At some point, Harper-Mercer, who identified himself as “mixed race” on a social networking site, appeared to have been sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army, a militant group that waged a violent campaign to drive the British from Northern Ireland. On an undated MySpace page, he posted photos of masked IRA gunmen carrying assault rifles.

His victims were named on Friday, and ranged in age from 18 to 67. Nine more people were wounded, three critically.

One of those wounded, Mr Chris Mintz, 30, a US Army veteran who served in Iraq, was credited with likely saving lives when he confronted the gunman outside another classroom before police arrived. Mr Mintz drew fire that left him with seven bullet wounds and two broken legs, according to his former girlfriend.

By early-afternoon on Saturday, a GoFundMe site set up by Mr Mintz’s cousin to help pay for his treatment and recovery, had received almost US$630,000 (S$900,000) in donations.